Elite divers and rescuers began an operation that has been dubbed "mission impossible" to extract 12 young soccer players and their coach who have been trapped in a flooded cave complex in northern Thailand for more than two weeks, and according to media report, the first four boys of the trapped team have already been rescued from the cave. They had to traverse more than four kilometers to get to the exit of the cave, according to AFP and local Thai media.
BREAKING: @NBCNews Special Report:@BillNeelyNBC reports as police tell @NBCNews team near Thai cave that at least two boys have been rescued; rescue operation to free the other boys and coach ongoing. https://t.co/tI7zsCpEMp pic.twitter.com/DX9uiOhPmh— NBC News (@NBCNews) July 8, 2018
Initial reports that two boys were rescued were promptly followed by a report that another two boys would reach rescue camp and walk out.
BREAKING: Thai navy SEALS say four soccer team members have been taken out of the cave where they had been trapped.— The Associated Press (@AP) July 8, 2018
The head of the rescue mission Narongsak Osottanakorn said Sunday "Today is the D-day. The boys are ready to face any challenges," AFP reported.
The rescued boys separately emerged from Tham Luang Nang Non cave in Chiang Rai province between 5:30pm and 6pm local time, Kyodo said. The boys, members of the “Wild Boars” team that has been stuck in a cramped chamber several kilometers inside the Tham Luang cave complex since June 23, emerged Sunday night after the mission to rescue the group began earlier in the day.
"Two kids are out. They are currently at the field hospital near the cave," said Tossathep Boonthong, chief of Chiang Rai's health department and part of the rescue team.
Rescuers said it could take up to four days for the entire team to reach safety, depending on conditions inside the cave.
Rescuers began the mission at 10 am Sunday morning local time, because floodwaters inside the cave were at their lowest level in days and rains forecast to hit the region risk flooding the cave again. Authorities initially suggested waiting until the end of the rainy season in fall but rescuers now warn of a dwindling lack of oxygen and upcoming monsoonal rains flooding the cave. Heavy rains could make the water rise to the shelf where the children were sitting, reducing the area to "less than 10 square meters", Osottanakorn said.
The boys aged 11-16 and their 25-year-old coach from Thai youth soccer team 'Wild Boar" entered the massive cave network in northern Thailand when it was still dry but a heavy rainfall soon flooded the exit tunnel, stranding them in a chamber miles inside the system.
Thirteen foreign divers and five members of Thailand’s elite navy Seal unit have been tasked with bringing the boys – some as young as 11 and weak swimmers – through narrow, submerged passageways. Underscoring the perils the rescue operation faced, an experienced Thai Navy Seal diver died late on Thursday after running out of oxygen and losing consciousness on his way back from a mission to deliver oxygen canisters.
The water in the cave is muddy and unclear, with one diver comparing it to a cafe latte. Ropes have been installed to help guide the boys through the darkness. Narongsak Osottanakorn, head of the rescue mission, said two divers would escort each of the boys out of the cave, according to SCMP.
The rescue teams had rehearsed the plan for several days, said Narongsak, and they had to move now.
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The boys’ plight has transfixed Thailand and the rest of the world. Initial euphoria over finding them alive quickly turned into deep anxiety as rescuers raced to find a way to get them out, with Narongsak at one point dubbing the effort “Mission Impossible”.
Authorities have highlighted the tiny passageway near T-junction, or Sam Yak in Thai, as the most dangerous element of the journey.
Authorities had looked at many different ways to save the boys and their coach. More than 100 exploratory holes were also bored – some shallow, but the longest 400 metres deep – into the mountainside in an attempt to open a second evacuation route and avoid forcing the boys into the dangerous dive.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk even deployed engineers from his private space exploration firm SpaceX and Boring to help, however in an update from early Sunday morning, Musk said on Twitter that he appears to have missed his window to participate in the rescue operation.
Given Chiang Rai airport hours, soonest we could’ve departed US was an hour ago, but cave now closed for diver rescue. Will continue testing in LA in case needed later or for somewhere else in future.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 8, 2018
The rescuers apparently chose not to wait for Elon Musk's "kid-sized submarine," which he supposedly started building on Saturday to ship to Thailand within a day. Musk said building the sub would only take eight hours. Counting from the time of Musk's tweet, the vessel was completed some two hours before the operation kicked off, but it would take another 17 hours to transport it. Many commenters doubted the announced plan was anything more than a PR stunt on Musk's part.
Meanwhile, and more practically, rescuers fed a kilometres-long air pipe into the cave to restore oxygen levels in the chamber where the team was sheltering with medics and divers.